Follow the 3 R’s to Stop Workplace Bullying

Encourage your employees to recognize, refuse and report bullies within your company.
Follow the 3 R’s to Stop Workplace Bullying
Danita Johnson Hughes

We’ve heard a lot recently about bullying in the classroom, but what about bullying in the workplace? According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 35 percent of U.S. workers report being bullied on the job. That’s an estimated 53.5 million people. An additional 15 percent say they have witnessed workplace bullying.

At first glance, it’s easy to brush off workplace bullying as just the way business is done. After all, haven’t we all heard such phrases as “It’s a dog-eat-dog world” and “Only the strong survive?” But being driven to succeed and being a bully are two completely different things.

Workplace bullying is often harmful to an organization because it impedes growth and success. It also costs organizations dearly in lost productivity, increased use of sick days, and time for management’s intervention. For example, WBI estimates that between turnover and lost productivity alone, workplace bullying could cost a Fortune 500 company $24 million each year.

Add another $1.4 million for litigation and settlement costs, and this is a problem no company — large or small — can afford to ignore.

Everyone has the right to work in a safe, healthy and bully-free environment, so what can employees and managers do to stop workplace bullying? The key is to follow the three R’s:

Recognize it

Say the word “bully” and most people envision a playground thug threatening the weakest kid around. In the workplace, bullying often looks much different. While screaming, yelling and cursing at someone certainly constitutes bullying, other lesser-recognized forms of bullying include belittling employees, excluding people from meetings and other activities, denying employees the resources or assistance needed to get the job done, spreading nasty rumors about people, ignoring the employee, making dismissive remarks, and dishing out unwarranted blame or criticism.

Ultimately, anything that can be construed as an act of intimidation is a form a bullying. And when people feel intimidated, they can’t get their job done effectively. Interestingly, both men and women bully. But the majority of bullying is same-gender harassment, which is a loophole often overlooked in anti-discrimination laws and workplace policies.

Refuse it

Workers who feel bullied in any way should simply refuse the attack. In other words, don’t engage the person who is bullying. It’s best to walk away, ignore it, or don’t acknowledge the behavior. Yes, sometimes this is very difficult. But engaging with the person in the same manner he or she is displaying will only spiral the situation out of control. Usually, not engaging the bully and showing that his or her words or actions have no effect will make the person go away.

If the bullying action includes being ignored or ostracized, the worker needs to take the lead and initiate a conversation with the person. He or she should explain that they feel ignored and why this behavior is impeding getting the job done. Focus on the behavior rather than the person specifically to reduce the chances of the person becoming defensive.

Report it

If an employee can’t handle the bullying situation on their own, they need to talk to someone who can make a difference. Depending on the situation, this could mean talking with a supervisor or a manager. The victim should keep going up the chain of command until finding someone who can intervene. Fortunately, almost anything can be worked out if both parties are open to it. They need to find someone to act as a moderator if they can’t talk through the situation.

A bully-free future

With all this said, it should be noted that a leader who is tough or demanding is not necessarily a bully. All bosses have the right and obligation to set and uphold high standards of performance, as long as they exercise fairness, respect and objectivity in their dealings with subordinates and others. Bullying is often a personal attack; leading in a firm and focused way is not.

The only way to curb workplace bullying is to tackle the issue head-on. The more awareness people have of the topic, and the more prepared they are to deal with it, the more progress companies will make to end the problem once and for all.

Danita Johnson Hughes is a behavioral health care industry executive, speaker, author and entrepreneur.



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